It’s Friday testing on Race weekend, your team has the best car by what seems like an unbeatable margin; you have had astonishing reliability and consecutive double podiums for each of the first five races. It may be early in the season but the title already looks like it’s yours to lose, your challenge comes from a different team in each race so no one team is amassing a the points and your lead grows from race to race. But you notice the gap falling slowly from race to race. No worries you had a new aero package up your sleeve for the next race – that will get it all back.
First practice and you’re expecting to be near the top of the time sheets, you have a new aero package which shows a further leap forward at the wind tunnel and on your computer sims. Your rivals will have moved on too but they can’t have jumped you given that gap. The team is in buoyant mood. The cars roll out of the garage and you watch the timing screens BUT the initial runs show a deficit to all the nearest challengers. An expected 0.4 second advantage is actually showing a half second deficit. It must be the set up needs dialing in.
The Race Engineers move the settings one way then the other but the times get worse no matter what you do. Then suddenly the reality hits…. you’ve gone from being a team clearly punching miles above its weight to midfield has-beens for no apparent reason. The cars return down the pit lane from the final timed run of the day and you are desperate to find out exactly what your drivers have to say. Please tell me they were just taking it easy and bedding in the new parts you think. The helmets are removed and they do not look happy at all. Harsh exchanges between the drivers and the engineers are followed by rather sprightly disappearances back to the motor home. You grab your engineer as he heads to the back of the garage he looks at you then shakes his head but no words are needed – you are in trouble. You call a team meeting… “The performance has gone” one says, “the car is just not under him.” Says another. “How can this be?” demands the Chief Mechanic. The engineer looks at the sky and notices the clouds, “Hang on it’s a cold day, colder than all previous races in fact and suddenly it clicks, there’s no temperature on the tyres, the cars can’t generate enough heat into their tyres, it’s not the car that’s changed it’s the weather!
Well you may have solved the riddle. But it is impossible to escape the reality dawning that your car was designed, inadvertently perhaps, to fundamentally excel in the heat. All the other teams were struggling with much greater tyre degradation causing huge drop offs on long runs. Your consistency on the long runs in the heat of the first 5 venues was down entirely to your choice of design way back last April during the new car strategy kick off meetings. You deliberately chose suspension geometry set ups that would counter that horrific rear tyre wear issue you were having on that year’s car but it is clear you have taken the kinder set up to an extreme non of the other teams thought were necessary under the new rules. You were the only team to go that way because everyone else felt the much lower downforce from the new regulations would mean a much harder set up was required to get a bit more mechanical grip through the tyres.
What turned out to be a master stroke at the start of the season may now begin to bite your backside. All the other teams are now generating far less tyre wear and having smoother longer runs. Now we get to cooler ambient temperatures and you can’t get decent temperatures and consistent tyre pressures have disappeared into the Fly-Away races sunsets.
It seemed a decent idea at the time. Your attempts to design a chassis going easier on tyres should have given you more strategic options across the board. You are now stuck with a car at the extreme of the performance curve with little option to modify to compensate. Whereas everyone else has got to grips with the new technological needs and being closer to the centre of the performance T-Junction, they have far more adaptability to close the gap in the heat but leaving you dreadfully low on options in medium or low heat conditions. You qualify in the mid-field in the dry and worse follows on race day when you don’t even make the points in the wet.
Your tyres rarely make it into their operating window throughout a cool and miserable European Summer. Your ability to close out the championship is hampered by an inability to design back in some heat capacity towards the rubber and you blow your budget trying to force the car into a direction it simply can not go. By the end of Europe, your lead has disappeared and in the heat the others have overtaken you.
The title which had previously seemed in the bag disappeared to the Engineering heartland of Northern Italy along with your star driver and the engineers that had so brilliantly executed your strategy disappeared from one side of Northamptonshire to the other then far afield places such as leafy Surrey and Oxon.
A simple design choice brings your first title chance to your doorstep then becomes the Achilles heel wrecking your hopes of dining with the silver platter and spraying that sweet apple juice. Can you minimise the damage and develop the car through the season to overcome this flaw or will your title bid crumble…you find out in GPRM.